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History of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre online

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154 King Henry IV. [1560.

Thralldom of Henry II. Mary, Queen of Scots.

solute obedience to the orders of the Duke of
Guise as if they emanated from himself. "And
truly," says one of the writers of those times,
"never had monarch in France been obeyed
more punctually or with greater zeal." In fact,
Guise was now the head of the government,
and all the great interests of the nation were or-
dered by his mind. Henry was a feeble prince,
with neither vigor of body nor energy of intel-
lect to resist the encroachments of so imperial a
spirit. He gave many indications of uneasiness
in view of his own thralldom, but he was en-
tirely unable to dispense with the aid of his sa-
gacious ally.

It will be remembered that one of the daugh-
ters of Claude, and a sister of Francis, the sec-
ond duke of Guise, married the King of Scot-
land. Her daughter, the niece of Francis, was
the celebrated Mary, Queen of Scots. She had
been sent to France for her education, and she
was married, when very young, to her cousin
Francis, son of Henry II. and of the infamous
Catharine de Medici. He was heir of the French
throne. This wedding was celebrated with the
utmost magnificence, and the Guises moved on
the occasion through the palaces of royalty with
the pride of monarchs. Henry II. was acci-

1560.] Yalois — Guise— Bourbon. 155

Francis II. Troubles bebveen the Protestants and Catholics.

dentally killed in a tournament ; and Francis,
his son, under the title of Francis II., with his
young and beautiful bride, the unfortunate Mary,
Queen of Scots, ascended the throne. Francis
was a feeble-minded, consumptive youth of 16,
whose thoughts were all centred in his lovely
wife. Mary, who was but fifteen years of age,
was fascinating in the extreme, and entirely de-
voted to pleasure. She gladly transferred all
the power of the realm to her uncles, the Guises.
About this time the conflict between the Cath-
olics and the Protestants began to grow more
violent. The Catholics drew the sword for the
extirpation of heresy ; the Protestants grasped
their arms to defend themselves. The Guises
consecrated all their energies to the support of
the Papal Church and to the suppression of the
Keformation. The feeble boy, Francis 11. , sat
languidly upon his throne but seventeen months,
when he died, on the 5th of December, 1560,
and his brother, Charles IX., equally enervated
in mind and with far less moral worth, succeed-
ed to the crown. The death of Francis II. was
a heavy blow to the Guises. The Admiral Co-
ligni, one of the most illustrious of the Protest-
ants, and the bosom friend of Henry of Na-
mrre, was standing, with many other nobles, at

156 King Henry IY.

Admiral Coligni. Antoinette.

the Ibedside of the monarch as he breathed his

" Gentlemen," said the admiral, with that
gravity which was in accordance with his char-
acter and liis religious principles, ''the king is
dead. It is a lesson to teach us all how to live."

The Protestants could not but rejoice that
the Guises had thus lost the peculiar influence
which they had secured from their near rela-
tionship to the queen. Admiral Coligni retired
from the death-bed of the monarch to his own
mansion, and, sitting down by the fire, became
lost in the most profound reverie. He did not
observe that his boots were burning until one
of his friends called his attention to the fact.

"Ah !" he replied, "not a week ago, you and
I would each have given a leg to have things
take this turn, and now wx get off with a pair
of boots."

Antoinette, the widow of Claude of Lorraine,
and the mother of Francis, the then Duke of
Guise, was still living. She was so rancorous
in her hostility to the Protestants that she was
designated by them ^^ Mother of the tyrants
and enemies of the GospeV Greatly to her
annoyance, a large number of Protestants con-
ducted their worship in the little town of Yassy,

Valois — Guise — Bourbon. 157

Massacre by the Duke of Guise.

just on the frontier of the domains of the Diike
of Guise. She was incessantly imploring her
son to drive off these obnoxious neighbors. The
duke was at one time journeying with his wife.
Their route lay through the town of Yassy. His
suite consisted of two hundred and sixty men
at arms, all showing the warlike temper of their
chief, and even far surpassing him in bigoted
hatred of the Protestants.

On arriving at Vassy, the duke entered the
church to liear high mass. It is said that while
engaged in this act of devotion his ears were an-
noyed by the psalms of the Protestants, who
were assembled in the vicinity. He sent an
imperious message for the minister and the lead-
ing members of the congregation immediately to
appear before him. The young men fullilled
their mission in a manner so taunting and in-
sulting that a quarrel ensued, shots were ex-
changed, and immediately all the vassals of the
duke, who were ripe for a fray, commenced an
indiscriminate massacre. The Protestants val-
iantly but unavailingly defended themselves
with sticks and stones ; but the bullets of their
enemies reached them everywhere, in the houses,
on the roofs, in the streets. For an hour the car-
nage continued unchecked, and sixty men and

158 Kino Heney IV.

The Butcher of Vassy. Remonstrance to the queen.

women were killed and two hundred wounded.
One only of the men of the duke was killed.
Francis was ashamed of this slaughter of the
defenseless, and declared that it was a sudden
outbreak, for which he was not responsible, and
which he had done every thing in his power to
check ; but ever after this he was called by the
Protestants ^^The Butcher of YassyJ"

When the news of this massacre reached Par-
is, Theodore de Beza was deputed by the Prot-
estants to demand of Catharine, their regent, se-
vere justice on the Duke of Guise ; but Cath-
arine feared the princes of Lorraine, and said to

"Whoever touches so much as the finger-tip
of the Duke of Guise, touches me in the middle
of my heart."

Beza meekly but courageously replied, *'It
assuredly behooves that Church of God, in whose
name I speak, to endure blows and not to strike
them ; but may it please your majesty also to
remember that it is an anvil which has worn
out many hammers."

At the siege of Eouen the Duke of Guise was
informed that an assassin had been arrested who
had entered the camp with the intention of tak-
ing his life. He ordered the man to be brought
before him, and calmly inquired,

Valois — Guise — Bourbon. 159

Magnanimity of the Duke of Guise. Religious wars.

" Have you not come hither to kill me?"

The intrepid but misguided young man open-
ly avowed his intention.

"And what motive," inquired the duke, "im-
pelled you to such a deed ? Have I done you
any wrong?"

' ' No, " he replied ; ' ' but in removing you from
the world I should promote the best interests
of the Protestant religion, which I profess."

"My religion, then," generously replied the
duke, "is better than yours, for it commands
me to pardon, of my own accord, you who are
convicted of guilt." And, by his orders, the as-
sassin was safely conducted out of camp.

"A fine example, "exclaims his historian, "of
truly religious sentiments and magnanimous
proselytism very natural to the Duke of Guise,
the most moderate and humane of the chiefs of
the Catholic army, and whose brilliant generos-
ity had been but temporarily obscured by the
occurrence at Vassy."

The war between the Catholics and Protest-
ants was now raging with implacable fury, and
Guise, victorious in many battles, had acquired
from the Catholic party the name of " Savior of
his Country." The duke was now upon the
very loftiest summits of power which a subject

160 King Heney IV.

Assassination of the Duke of Guise.

can attain. In great exaltation of spirits, he
one morning left the army over which he was
commander-in-chief to visit the duchess, who
had come to meet him at the neighboring castle
of Corney. The duke very imprudently took
with him merely one general officer and a page.
It was a beautiful morning in February. As
he crossed, in a boat, the mirrored surface of the
Loiret, the vegetation of returning spring and
the songs of the rejoicing birds strikingly con-
trasted with the blood, desolation, and misery
with which the hateful -spirit of war was deso-
lating France. The duke was silent, apparent-
ly lost in painful reveries. His companions
disturbed not his thoughts. Having crossed
the stream, he was slowly walking his horse,
with the reins hanging listlessly upon his mane,
when a pistol was discharged at him from be-
hind a hedge, at a distance of but six or seven
paces. Two bullets pierced his side. On feel-
ing himself wounded, he calmly said,

" They have long had this shot in reserve for
me. I deserve it for my want of precaution."

He immediately fell upon his horse's neck,
and was caught in the arms of his friends.
They conveyed him to the castle, v/liere tlie
duchess received him with cries of anguish. He

1563.] Valois — Guise — Bourbon. 163

Death of the duke. Jean Poltrot.

embraced her tenderly, minutely described the
circumstances of his assassination, and express-
ed himself grieved in view of the stain which
such a crime would inflict upon the honor of
France. He exhorted his wife to bow in sub-
mission to the will of Heaven, and kissing his
son Henry, the Duke of Joinville, who was
weeping by his side, gently said to him,

"God grant thee grace, my son, to be a good

Thus died Francis, the second Duke of Guise,
on the twenty-fourth of February, 1563. His
murderer was a young Protestant noble, Jean
Poltrot, twenty-four years of age. Poltrot, from
being an ardent Catholic, had embraced the Prot-
estant faith. This exposed him to persecution,
and he was driven from France with the loss of
his estates. He was compelled to support him-
self by manual labor. Soured in disposition,
exasperated and half maddened, he insanely felt
that he would be doing God service by the as-
sassination of the Butcher of Yassy, the most
formidable foe of the Protestant religion. It
was a day of general darkness, and of the con-
fusion of all correct ideas of morals.

Henry, the eldest son of the Duke of Guise,
a lad of but thirteen years of age, now inherited

164 King Henry IV.

Anecdote. Pi'ediction of Francis.

the titles and the renown which his bold ances-
tors had accumulated. This was the Duke of
Guise who was the bandit chieftain in the Mas-
sacre of St. Bartholomew.

One day Hemy II. was holding his little
daughter Marguerite, who afterward became the
wife of Henry of Navarre, in his lap, when Hen-
ry of Guise, then Prince of Joinville, and the
Marquis of Beaupreau, were playing together
upon the floor, the one being but seven years
of age, and the other but nine.

"Which of the two do you like the best?"
inquired the king of his child.

"I prefer the marquis," she promptly replied.

"Yes; but the Prince of Joinville is the hand-
somest," the king rejoined.

" Oh," retorted Marguerite, " he is always in
mischief, and he w411 be master every where."

Francis, the Duke of Guise, had fully appre-
hended the ambitious, impetuous, and reckless
character of his son. He is said to have pre-
dicted that Henry, intoxicated by popularity,
Avould perish in the attempt to seat himself upon
the throne of France.

" Henry," says a writer of those times, " sur-
passed all the princes of his house in certain
natural gifts, in certain talents, which procured

Valois — Guise — ^Bouebon. 165

Enthusiasm of the populace. The house of Bourbon.

him the respect of the court, the affection of the
people, but which, nevertheless, were tarnished
by a singular alloy of great faults and unlimit-
ed ambition."

"France was mad about that man," writes
another, " for it is too little to say that she was
in love with him. Pier passion approached idol-
atry. There were persons who invoked him in
their prayers. His portrait was every where.
Some ran after him in the streets to touch his
mantle with their rosaries. One day that he
entered Paris on his return from a journey, the
multitude not only cried ' Vive Guise P but
many sang, on his passage, '• Ilosanna to the son
of David P''

3. The House of Bourhon. The origin of
this family fades away in the remoteness of an-
tiquity. Some bold chieftain, far remote in bar-
barian ages, emerged from obscurity and laid
the foundations of the illustrious house. Gen-
eration after generation passed away, as the son
succeeded the father in baronial pomp, and
pride, and power, till the light of history, with
its steadily-increasing brilliancy, illumined Eu-
rope. The family had often been connected in
marriage both with the house of Guise and the
royal line, the house of Valois. Antony of Bour-

166 King Henky IV.

The houses united.

bon, a sturdy soldier, united the houses of Bour-
Ibon and Navarre "by marrying Jeanne d'Albret,
the only child of the King of Navarre. Henry
came from the union, an only son ; and he, by
marrying Marguerite, the daughter of the King
of France, united the houses of Bourbon, Na-
varre, and Valois, and became heir to the throne
of France should the sons of Henry II. die with-
out issue.

This episode in reference to the condition of
France at the time of which we write seems nec-
essary to enable the reader fully to understand
the succeeding chapters.

Death of Charles IX. 167

Henry, King of Poland.

Chaptee VII.

The Death of Charles IX. and the
Accession of Henry III.

AFTER the Massacre of St. Bartholomew,
a large number of the Protestants threw
themselves into the city of Rochelle. For sev-
en months they were besieged by all the power
which the King of France could bring against
them. They were at length, weakened by sick-
ness and exhausted by famine, compelled to sur-
render. By their valiant resistance, however,
they obtained highly honorable terms, securing
for the inhabitants of Rochelle the free exercise
of their religion within the walls of the city,
and a general act of amnesty for all the Prot-
estants in the realm.

Immediately after this event, Henry, the broth-
er of Charles IX., was elected King of Poland,
an honor which he attained in consequence of
the military prowess he had displayed in the
wars against the Protestants of France. Ac-
companied by his mother, Catharine de Medici,
the young monarch set out for his distant do-

168 Kino Henry IY.

Henry's journey through Germany.

minions. Henry had been a veiy active agent
in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. At Lor-
raine Catharine took leave of him, and he went
on his way in a very melancholy mood. His
election had been secured by the greatest efforts
of intrigue and bribery on the part of his moth-
er. The melancholy countenances of the Prot-
estants, driven into exile, and bewailing the mur-
der of friends and relatives, whose assassination
he had caused, met him at every turn. His re-
ception at the German courts was cold and re-
pulsive. In the palace of the Elector Palatine,
Henry beheld the portrait of Coligni, who had
been so treacherously slaughtered in the Massa-
cre of St. Bartholomew. The portrait was sus-
pended in a very conspicuous place of honor,
and beneath it were inscribed the words,

" Such was the former countenance of the hero
Coligni, who has been rendered truly illustrious
both by his life and his death."

The Protestant Elector pointed out the pic-
ture to the young king, whom he both hated
and despised, and coolly asked him if he knew
the man. Henry, not a little embarrassed, re-
plied that he did.

"He was," rejoined the German prince, "the
most honest man, and the wisest and the great-

Death of Charles IX. 169

Enmity between the two brothers.

est captain of Europe, wliose children I keep
witjj me, lest the dogs of France should tear
them as their father has been torn."

Thus Henry, gloomy through the repulses^
which he was ever encountering, journeyed
along to Poland, where he was crowned king,
notwithstanding energetic remonstrances on the
part of those who execrated him for his deeds.
The two brothers, Charles IX. and Henry, were
bitter enemies, and Charles had declared, with
many oaths, that one of the two should leave
the realm. Henry was the favorite of Catha-
rine, and hence she made such efforts to secure
his safety by placing him upon the throne of
Poland. She was aware that the feeble Charles
would not live long, and when, with tears, she
took leave of Henry, she assured him that he
would soon return.

The outcry of indignation which the Massa-
cre of St. Bartholomew called forth from com-
bined Europe fell like the knell of death on the
ear of the depraved and cowardly Charles. Dis-
ease began to ravage, with new violence, his e"x-
hausted frame. He became silent, morose, ir-
ritable, and gloomy. He secluded himself from
all society, and surrendered himself to the do-
minion of remorse. He was detested by the

170 King Henry IY.

Sickness of Charles IX.

Protestants, and utterly despised Iby the Cath-
olics. A bloody sweat, oozing from every px)re,
crimsoned his bed-clothes. His occasional out-
cries of remorse and his aspect of misery drove
all from his chamber excepting those who were
compelled to render him service. He groaned
and wept incessantly, exclaiming,

" Oh, what blood ! oh, what murders ! Alas !
why did I follow such evil counsels ?"

He saw continually the spectres of the slain,
with ghastly, gory wounds, stalking about his
bed ; and demons of hideous aspect, and with
weapons of torture in their hands, with horrid
and derisive malice, were impatiently waiting to
seize his soul the moment it should pass from
the decaying body.

The day before his death he lay for some
time upon his bed in perfect silence. Sudden-
ly starting up, he exclaimed,

"Call my brother."

His mother, who was sitting by his side, di-
rected an attendant, to call his brother Francis,
the Duke of Alen9on.

"No, not him," the king replied ; "my broth-
er, the King of Navarre,! mean."

Henry of Navarre was then detained in
princely imprisonment in the court of Catha-

Death of Charles IX. 171

Remorse of the king.

rine. He had made many efforts to escape, but
all had been unavailing.

Catharine directed that Henry should be call-
ed. In order to intimidate him, and thus to
prevent him from speaking with freedom and
boldness to her dying son, she ordered him to
be brought through the vaults of the castle, be-
tween a double line of armed guards. Henry,
as he descended into those gloomy dungeons,
and saw the glittering arms of the soldiers, felt
that the hour for his assassination had arrived.
He, however, passed safely through, and was
ushered into the chamber of his brother-in-law
and former playfellow, the dying king. Charles
IX., subdued by remorse and appalled by ap-
proaching death, received him with gentleness
and affection, and weeping profusely, embraced
him as he knelt by his bedside.

"My brother," said the dying king, "you
lose a good master and a good friend. I know
that you are not the cause of the troubles which
have come upon me. If I had believed all
which has been told me, you would not now
have been living; but I have always loved you."
Then turning his eyes to the queen mother, he
said energetically, " Do not trust to — " Here
Catharine hastily interrupted him, and prevent-

172 King Heney IV.

Death of Charles IX. Chateaubriand.

ed the finishing of the sentence with the words
"my mother.''^

Charles designated his brother Henry, the
King of Poland, as his successor. He express-
ed the earnest wish that neither his younger
brother, Francis, the Duke of Alen9on, nor Hen-
ry, would disturb the repose of the realm. The
next night, as the Cathedral clock was tolling
the hour of twelve, the nurse, who was sitting,
with two watchers, at the bedside of the dying
monarch, heard him sighing and moaning, and
then convulsively weeping. Gently she ap-
proached the bed and drew aside the curtains.
Charles turned his dimmed and despairing eye
upon her, and exclaimed,

"Oh, my nurse! my nurse! what blood
have I shed! what murders have I committed!
Great God ! pardon me — pardon me !"

A convulsive shuddering for a moment agi-
tated his frame, his head fell back upon his
pillow, and the wretched man was dead. He
died at twenty-four years of age, expressing
satisfaction that he left no heir to live and to
suffer in a world so full of misery. In reference
to this guilty king, Chateaubriand says,

" Should we not have some pity for this mon-
arch of twenty-three years, born with fine tal-







Character of the king.

Henry III.

ents, a taste for literature and the arts, a char-
acter naturally generous, whom an execrable
mother had tried to deprave by all the abuses
of debauchery and power ?"

"Yes," warmly responds G. de Felice, "we
will have compassion for him, with the Hugue-
nots themselves, whose fathers he ordered to be
slain, and who, with a merciful hand, would
wipe away the blood which covers his face to
find still something human."

Henry, his brother, who was to succeed him
upon the throne, was then in Poland. Catha-
rine was glad to have the pusillanimous Charles
out of the way. He was sufficiently depraved
to commit any crime, w^ithout being sufficiently
resolute to brave its penalty. Henry III. had,
in early life, displayed great vigor of character.
At the age of fifteen he had been placed in the
command of armies, and in several combats had
defeated the veteran generals of the Protestant
forces. His renown had extended through Eu-
rope, and had contributed much in placing him
on the elective throne of Poland. Catharine,
by the will of the king, was appointed regent
until the return of Henry. She immediately
dispatched messengers to recall the King of Po-
land. In the mean time, she kept Henry of ISTa-

174 King Henry IV.

The stratagem. Tlight from the crown,

varre and her youngest son, the Duke ol Alen-
9on, in close captivity, and watched them with
the greatest vigilance, that they might make no
movements toward the throne.

Henry was by this time utterly weary of his
Polish crown, and sighed for the voluptuous
pleasures of Paris. The Poles were not willing
that their king should leave the realm, as it
might lead to civil war in the choice of a suc-
cessor. Henry was compelled to resort to strat-
agem to effect his escape. A large and splen-
did party was invited to the palace. A wil-
derness of rooms, brilliantly illuminated, were
thrown open to the guests. Masked dancers
walked the floor in every variety of costume.
Wine and wassail filled the halls with revelry.
When all were absorbed in music and mirth,
the king, by a private passage, stole from the
palace, and mounting a swift horse, which was
awaiting him in the court-yard, accompanied by
two or three friends, commenced his flight from
his crown and his Polish throne. Through the
long hours of the night they pressed their horses
to their utmost speed, and when the morning
dawned, obtaining fresh steeds, they hurried on
their way, tarrying not for refreshment or repose
until they had passed the frontiers of the king-

Death of Charles IX. 175

The sojourn in Italy. The three Henrys.

dom. Henry was afraid to take the direct route
through the Protestant states of Germany, for
the Massacre of St. Bartholomew was still bit-
terly remembered. He therefore took a circui-
tous route through Italy, and arrived at Venice
in August. In sunny Italy he lingered for
some time, surrendering himself to every ener-
vating indulgence, and even bartering the for-
tresses of France to purchase the luxuries in the
midst of which he was reveling. At last, sated
with guilty pleasure, he languidly turned his
steps toward Paris.

There were now three Henrys, who had been
companions in childhood, who were at the head
of the three rival houses of Yalois, of Bourbon,
and of Guise. One of these was King of France.
One was King of Navarre. But Henry of Guise
was, in wealth and in the attachment of the
Catholic population of France, superior to ei-
ther. The war which ensued is sometimes call-
ed The War of the three Henrys.

As soon as his mother learned that he was
approaching France, she set out from Paris with
a magnificent retinue to meet her pet child, tak-
ing with her his brother, the Duke of Alen9on,
and Henry of Navarre. Dissipation had im-
paired the mental as well as the physicalener-

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre → online text (page 8 of 16)